‘Neighbours to newcomers’ portraits from Tamworth

Stories and photographs of families who have found peace and pride after resettling in Tamworth, New South Wales, a regional centre that has been transformed since 2006 when it drew national ire for its rejection of refugees

In a country town we need to all work together, know each other, says Tamworth resident and refugee advocate Eddie Whitham.

We need to find a common ground. Its not going to work if we have isolated people. We want to make our town work. The hope is that this will become a natural thing that there will be no us and them.

Eddie On the traditional lands of the the Kamilaroi people, Tamworth in New South Wales is now home to people of more than 80 different nationalities and has an estimated population close to 43,000.

Yet as recently as 2006, when it was proposed that the area resettle five Sudanese families fleeing from war, hunger and persecution, there was such concern from the community that a quarter of those who took part in a residents survey expressed their disapproval and the plan was voted down by the council, attracting national criticism.

Whitham, the founder of Multicultural Tamworth an organisation with the ethos of being good neighbours to newcomers says a lot has changed with the help of open and honest discussion. The region is now welcoming and celebrating diversity.

Here are the stories and portraits of those who have joined the community.

Shalini Pratap and family


A third-generation Fijian Indian, Shalini Pratap came to Australia in 1999 with her husband, an air-conditioning and refrigeration technician, who was issued a skilled workers visa.

Our first move was to Alice Springs, she says. It was a great move, a beautiful connection with Australia. A chance to experience real Australia.

The family decided to move to Tamworth in 2003 to be closer to family. At the time there were no other Fijian Indians in the region.

My husband started his business in Tamworth and it has been very successful. This is a reflection of the community, how welcoming they have been to us. Tamworth is very much home, a great community.



When asked about maintaining a connection to her culture, she replies: We owe our ancestors to maintain some of our culture and teach our daughter about her family history. We have a great sense of pride in being Aussie and Fijian Indian.

Shalinis daughter, Vineesha Veer, 15, is excelling at school and dreams of studying medicine. Australia has given me everything, she says.

Vineesha often wears traditional dress and joins her mother in regular Bollywood film nights. I love to wear clothes from India, she says. Fashion is one of the strongest links to my culture.

Nicole Li and family


Chinese couple Nicole Li and Charlie He arrived in 2014 as skilled migrants and have now applied to become permanent residents. Li, an engineering surveyor, and He, who has a background in IT, are settling into their new home with their nine-year-old son, James.


Li says the decision to migrate was tough on her parents, owing to Chinas one-child policy.

Wed never been [to Australia] before so coming here has been a total adventure for us, Li says. Coming from Beijing, we love the quiet and less-stressful lifestyle. We feel very free.

David Thon and Deborah Manyang


David Thon and Deborah Manyang came to Australia from the Kakuma refugee camp that is home to thousands, many known as the lost boys of Sudan.

Thon was resettled through the United Nations in 2007, along with his cousin. I was so happy to be coming to Australia and definitely felt some comfort knowing my cousin was with me, he says.

Manyang arrived in 2010 and, as a family, they moved to Tamworth in 2015. Its safe here, she says. We cant hear guns or see soldiers. Were happy. Its a new future for our children, they are adapting well and the local people have been very helpful.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/apr/17/neighbours-to-newcomers-portraits-from-tamworth

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